Philippines: Extended Passport Validity and Free Internet in Public Spaces

Frequent internet users in the Philippines will soon have free access to the internet after President Rodrigo Duterte signs the national law Republic Act 10929, which is publicly known as the Free Internet Access in Public Place Act.

The new law names eight public places where people will have free access to the internet. The places include government offices, public basic elementary institutions, state universities/colleges, technology institutions, public hospitals/centers, public parks/barangay reading centers, public air/sea ports and public terminals.

The new law states that the minimum speed for the public internet service should be two megabits per second or 2Mbps and collection of fees from users will not be allowed. The Philippine government has asked the Department of Information and Communications Technology (DICT) to supervise the implementation of the new law.

Philippines has been known as the country with the slowest internet service provider compared with its Asian neighbours. Known as the Facebook capital of the world, more than half of Philippine’s population is social online users.

The country’s economy is also heavily dependent on the quality of internet service since it is one of Southeast Asia’s leading BPO industries engaging a majority of English speaking young population

Duterte, last year, had warned local internet service providers that he would allow the entry of foreign internet service providers if they continue with slow internet services. Duterte said that with faster internet services in the country, new employment opportunities will emerge in the countryside.

In another development, the government adopted a second law to extend the validity of Philippines passports to ten years from five years. The provision does not apply to minors or those under 18 years old, who will only be issued a passport valid for five years.

The government may limit the validity period to less than ten years “whenever in the national economic interest or political stability of the country, such restriction is necessary.” The law is due to have a major effect on outbound tourism as it divides by two the cost of passport renewal with the consequence of stimulating travel.